Malera stood over Ria’s body. “Traitor.” The chief priestess turned to the acolyte who had been the last to join the stoning. “See what happens to those who defy me. Next time, do not be so slow or you will face the same punishment.”
Another of the young women shrank back. A third knelt beside the body. “She lives. Should we call the alders to take her to the slavers?”
Malera ran her hands along the handle of her flail. “Let her lie.” She pointed upwards. “The sun will drink her essence and the carrion crows will dine on her flesh.” She indicated the dark forms that circled against the blue sky. “See, they gather for a feast.”
Two huge birds, the color of the midnight sky, landed on the path. Their orange beaks gleamed. One hopped forward and focused its gaze on Malera.
The chief priestess laughed. “Soon you will eat.”
The bird’s wings spread like ebony fans. “No,” one of the acolytes cried.
Malera pointed to the temple. “Since you have no stomach for what must be done, go to the temple and tend the priestesses the traitor harmed.”
The young woman backed away. “What about the fyrestones she destroyed? What will we do for the solstice rites?”
“Soon, the stone seekers will arrive.” Malera stroked the thongs of the flail. Most years, they arrive before the solstice.” She raised the flail and lashed Ria’s back and legs until blood seeped through the caftan.
The acolyte who knelt beside Ria jumped back to avoid the thongs. Something flew from her hand and skipped across the cobbles. “Why did you beat her?”
Malera laughed. “How else will the carrion crows know a feast awaits?”
The young woman covered her face with her hands. She scurried to the temple.
Malera spat on Ria’s body. “I am the chief priestess, the chosen leader of the
. This land is
under my control. The commoners bow to me. Rewards and punishments are mine to
mete.” She spun, strode to the temple and hurried to the harras. The fires
raging in her body needed to be quenched as only the studs could do. Temple